The Liberal government in Ottawa has released a discussion paper on bringing changes to the Standing Orders of the Parliament of Canada. In the document, they propose to give the government side of the House of Commons even more power and control over the daily business of the House and other proceedings, including debates in committees, the House itself, and Question Period. The discussion paper proposes to allow the governing party in the House of Commons (the Liberals) to act unilaterally taking rights away from the opposition parties.
One main feature of the Liberal’s proposed changes to the rules of parliament will make Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s life much easier. He will only have to show up for work in parliament once a week. He wants to answer all the questions during a single Question Period – one day a week when the House is sitting. He will not attend Question Period the other days of the week. The Prime Minister also wants to shut down parliament on Fridays again reducing the opportunity for all parties to hold his government to account.
The Conservative Party is the Official Opposition in the House of Commons and we are willing to discuss and debate measures that would modernize some of the processes and procedures under which parliament operates. The NDP have also said they are willing to enter such discussions. Both parties were shocked when the Liberal’s discussion paper was tabled at a Liberal-dominated committee and the Liberals announced limits on debate and timelines leading up to a vote (that the Liberals will win because of their majority in the House and at committees) to adopt, support and pass the discussion paper.
The discussion paper details proposals to allow the Liberals control over the amount of debate. A minister or parliamentary secretary would be able to stop debate at any time, and unilaterally adjourn the House if they want. This means that if a debate is not going the way they want, they can just shut it off and shut down the House.
The discussion paper also strips the opposition parties of the few procedural tactics we have under the rules. The opposition sometimes wants to extend hours of debate on certain government policies because if they don’t support a given item of business they may want extra time to bring the matter to the attention of Canadians and increase the chance that the government will ultimately listen to their reasons and public opinion and agree to make changes to a bill.
This is the way our democracy works. There ought to be a measure of give and take during the debates on the floor of the House of Commons chamber and in committees.
Major changes to the Standing Orders that have been made in our parliament over the past 150 years have been done with the consensus of all parties. In the interest of democracy, the Liberal government should not proceed with changes without the consent of all parties.
With proposals as controversial as this, it makes me wonder if this is not just an attempt to divert attention away from the Prime Minister’s weak budget and his plan to legalize marijuana that he reannounced last Monday.